Wooly Mammoth Habitat Case

Photo: Cindy Andrie

When a museum display is as convincing as the Royal BC Museum’s famous “Wooly” exhibit, it’s easy to forget how much design is actually involved. Of course the replica has to be good and Wooly’s carefully reconstructed proportions and muskox fur is miles ahead of other prehistoric models (do a quick web search… there are some pretty sad Mammoths out there), but how the model is displayed is equally important. From the lighting and scenery, to the placement of the model, the whole viewer experience is carefully designed to create an atmosphere where the model can come to life.

This week, the Museum gave us a reminder of all this careful design, when they turned off the display’s thunderstorm sound track. In my experience, the dark and stormy atmosphere is a huge part of the displays impact – as a kid the scariness was a special thrill. However, after receiving many complaints from parents, the Museum has decided that the display is too scary. Perhaps more importantly though, according to new climate research, thunderstorms were probably not typical weather during the Pleistoscene Era.

The decision to turn off the thunder has kicked off a redesign process, that will have to find a balance between realism and theatrical impact. Will Wooly have the same power in front of a bright blue arctic sky? It will be interesting to watch this evolve.

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